Everything We Wrote in March 2018: Devon, Michael Jackson, the Good Beer Guide

That was a pretty productive month with more posts than in any other month for some time, perhaps because the snow and cold kept us indoors near the books and the computer.

We started off gently with a bit of Pub Life, observing the dainty manoeuvres that take place around a communal pork pie which everyone wants to eat, but nobody wants to be seen to want to eat.


The topic of last month’s edition of The Session was ‘Hometown Glories’ so we separated into our constitutional parts to think about Walthamstow and Bridgwater respectively. It doesn’t look as if the host has put together a round-up of the entries yet but when he does, it’ll be here. (No pressure, Gareth.)


We flagged a new favourite book, 1949’s A Scrapbook of Inns, picking out some highlights, and then came back for another go at one of them in this post about the mysterious lost style ‘Ashburton Pop’:

There is a particular kind of beer brewed at Ashburton in Devonshire, very full of fixed air, and therefore known by the name of Ashburton pop, which is supposed to be as efficacious in consumptions as even the air of Devonshire itself…


BrewDog have been embroiled in some brouhaha every other day for the last month, it seems. We had some thoughts on the Pink IPA business, the reaction to which seemed like another win-win for the Scottish behemoth.


In a biggish post we looked back on what we learned about Devon’s beer scene while writing our Devon Life column for a year and a half:

If you think brown bitter is endangered, spend more time in Devon. Time after time we spoke to people who expressed mild frustration at the conservatism of the county – at the aversion to things pale, bitter or aromatic – and of the need to dial things back and down if they want to sell any of it in local pubs. There are too many potentially interesting beers that feel compromised, and too many brewers who know it.

This was one of our most popular posts for the month, though 99.9 per cent of the traffic was from one particular geographical region.


Women in work clothes smiling.
Women posing beside the bottling machine at Mitchells & Butlers bottling depot, Birmingham, c.1950.

For Internation Women’s Day we put together a gallery of images of women working in breweries and pubs from our collection of mid-20th-century in-house magazines.


One thing we weren’t very good at last month was tasting new beers and writing up the notes. We did get round to trying one of the beers suggested for us by our Patreon subscribers, though — De Molen Not For Sale Ale, about which we were rather enthusiastic.


While researching the IWD post (above) we came across several articles about malting and decided to put together a gallery of pictures from those, too.


Then came a cry of despair from the pub: what’s the point in breweries producing decent beer if it’s exactly the same as everybody else’s decent beer? What’s your thing?


Butting into somebody else’s mystery took us down an interesting line of research around Bristol’s mining history and take-away-only beerhouses. There’s a further update from the original poster in the comments on Instagram: “The Rock Tavern / Rock House appears around 1899 and disappears in the late 1960s. One of the entries is asterisked to indicate it was off-sales.”


There’s a whole lot of politics going on in and around SIBA, a lot of it rather hard to follow. We piped up to say that, actually, we understand why small brewers might not want medium-large brewers in their club. (Note: Neil from SIBA popped up on Twitter to point out that St Austell aren’t so much “muscling in” (our phrase) as trying to get back in, having been bumped out when they grew too big.)


Watney's Red -- detail from beer mat.

Nick Wheat acquired and uploaded a rare Watney’s training film from the launch of the reviled Red keg bitter in 1971 and kindly allowed us to share it. Do give it a watch if you have a spare 10-15 minutes, if only to marvel at the impenetrably plummy accents.


Last year CAMRA published our 2,500-word article on the origins of the Good Beer Guide, using only the words of those who were there. Now, so everyone can read it, it’s available here on the blog.


We weren’t expecting to like that beer, which we didn’t expect to find in such good condition, or in that pub, which we didn’t expect to find on that street, in that part of town. Surprises all round!


In 1983-84 Pitfield brewed a mild in support of the women of Greenham Common — was it the first ‘cause’ beer? Check out the comments for some other suggestions, and a telling off.


Illustration: Micheal Jackson peers from behind his glasses.

This was great fun to write, and a great example of where having two writers helps rather than hinders: someone asked us what Michael Jackson would have made of NEIPA so we invented two scholars and had them debate it using only his writings for ammo.


For a long time Orval was a beer alone; now, it has company, as a new style is in the process of being born. We’re calling it DHBA for now. And here’s a footnote via Twitter:


It was a long month which meant five rounds of News, Nuggets & Longreads, including one that was so full of good stuff we resorted to a list of bullet points at the end to fit it all in:

3 March 2018 — Norway, Nitrogen, Nanas

10 March 2018 — Lemondrop, BrewDog, Hardknott

17 March 2018 — London Drinkers & Bristol Dockers

24 March 2018 — Glitter, Ilford, AK

31 March 2018 — Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness


There was also an email newsletter (sign up!), lots of Tweets, photos of pubs on Instagram, a bit of Facebook stuff, and a three-hour Reddit AMA.

If you think all this lot is worth anything please consider signing up to support us via Patreon (where there are also exclusive posts for $2+ subscribers) or maybe just buy us a pint via Ko-Fi.

The Curse

I’ve been noticing worse hangovers for the last few years and put it down to ageing — I’m looking down the barrel end of 40. Whereas in my twenties I could happily go on a vodka crawl in Krakow and be up for work the next day, whistling and merry, these days, my limit is somewhere between one pint and three.

What struck me as odd, though, is that though Ray’s tolerance is also dropping (better that way than the other…) it’s consistent: he can drink about five pints in a session without having to write off the next day. Whereas on some occasions, a single pint is enough to induce an entire day of nausea in me.

So I started to do a bit of tracking on this, and began to notice a possible correlation: I appear to have much worse hangovers when I’m on or approaching my period.

My first thought was that I was actually less tolerant to alcohol during my period and this is very much the folk wisdom you’ll hear on the subject: during menstruation, the thinking goes, our blood is (a) thinner and (b) there’s less of it. However, from reading around a bit more, there isn’t clear medical evidence on this point (it would have a pretty negligible impact on blood/alcohol ratio, particularly if you keep up other fluids). However, interestingly, there is a potential link between oestrogen levels and pain perception, so it could be that the hangover symptoms simply feel a lot worse (as if that is any consolation). There is also a suggestion that you might drink more, or more quickly, while pre-menstrual (slough of despond and all that) – although I can rule out the former as I have been quite careful about recording amounts drunk, it is possible I might be boshing it at a different rate.

As someone who likes systems, processes and clear rules, it’s frustrating to me that there’s no consistency to it – some months are better than others. So I’ve started to record things in a lot more detail (e.g. looking at food intake, speed of alcohol absorption etc) and I’d be really interested to know if others have observed any trends or discovered any mitigation, other than sticking to fruit tea for half the month.

Tinkering With Casks

Casks at a beer festival.

In a comment on yesterday’s post reader AP said: ‘I’m surprised that in the current climate there isn’t more experimentation with cask conditioning going on.’ Well, having put AP’s point to Twitter, it turns out there’s quite a bit.

First, we know that the people behind our local in Bristol, the Draper’s Arms, have acquired a brand new wooden cask from the White Rose Cooperage which they are hoping to get filled by local brewers, putting a subtle twist on familiar beers. This is a similar model to the Junction at Castleford, West Yorkshire, which specialises in ‘beer from the wood’, and has its own casks which filled with beer from all sorts of breweries, including some on the Continent, that don’t normally use wooden vessels.

Various people came forward with tales of casks laid down in cellars to age for varying periods of time. Steve at Beer Nouveau recalled his days as a cellarman in Ipswich ageing Adnams Tally-Ho barley wine for up two years and then selling three different ages side-by-side. He also mentioned his habit (c.1998-99) of ageing Greene King Abbot Ale for six months before serving, without advertising it as aged or otherwise special. Hali and Brian, both former team-members at The Grove in Huddersfield, recalled keeping a cask of Bass P2 Imperial Stout in the cellar for 8 years before serving.

Susannah at the Station House micropub in Durham said (slightly edited):

We love experimenting with ageing. Mostly just, as previously noted, cellar till it’s ready. But Taylor’s beers usually get a minimum of a week, ideally two. There’s the Bass we aged for a month and sold as a mystery beer for our birthday last year (winner got a prize)… Currently ageing is a cask of Fortification from Cullercoats Brewery. Brewed in January, I think. Going on sale this week.

Angus from Mad Hatter Brewery recalled his time at the Wapping Brewery:

[We] used to keep a firkin or two back of our Winter ale for the following year as Vintage Winter. As long as you don’t fine on racking and your sanitation is up to scratch (and the cellar has the space) you’re all good… the spices mellowed out and the beer seemed richer.

One other person mentioned that a pub near them, with the agreement of the brewery, adds a bottle of spirits to casks of one particular strong ale. This is, of course, frightfully naughty. (Bet it tastes interesting though.)

But, still, we see what AP is getting at — it would be interesting to go to, say, a Fuller’s pub and find two different ages of ESB on offer, or vintage London Porter alongside fresh.

We’ve often wondered what effects might be achieved by adding the dregs from a bottle of Orval, or even a commercial Brettanomyces culture, into a straight cask ale and leaving it for a few months. This might even make Doom Bar interesting.

There are also plenty of opportunities for bold experiments with dry-hopping in the cask, with the permission and perhaps even guidance of brewers.

And this business of Guinness on hand-pull fascinates us — what’s to stop anyone buying keg beers, decanting them into clean casks, and throwing in some fresh yeast with some priming sugar? Perhaps only the faff of the paperwork and the risk of being told off by the brewery.

It strikes us that this kind of thing could help to convey the complex fascination of cask-conditioning and might add a bit of fun back into something which, at the moment, is largely the preserve of berks like us muttering about ‘subtle magic’ and ‘sessionability’.

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Book of Craft Beer by Melissa Cole

Is there any point in another beginners’ guide to beer, especially one that is, by its own admission, ‘Little’, and pointedly lightweight?

That we felt moved to buy a copy (via Amazon for £8.45; RRP £10) suggests that there is something in the proposition that sets it apart from other such volumes. That something is, in large part, the voice of the author, which is one we happen to appreciate a great deal. Melissa Cole is a visible, highly vocal presence on the beer scene, notable as much for her refusal to let incidents of sexism pass without comment as for carving out of a middle ground between daytime TV fluff and extreme beer nerdiness.

In line with that tightrope act this book has not so much hidden depths as artfully concealed ones. Though she makes a point of saying in the very opening lines that this book is not for experienced beer geeks, it is clear that Cole herself is sitting on a vast mine of experience and knowledge. The greatest challenge for knowledgeable writers is resisting the urge to drop it all, everything they’ve learned, in a great torrent — to batter the reader into submission with facts, dense detail and footnotes. Cole is sparing with the science and history but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there — it’s just boiled down to the absolutely plainest, briefest of English, and balanced with humorous asides and personal anecdotes.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: The Little Book of Craft Beer by Melissa Cole”

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 13 May 2017: Butter, Brussels, Belfast

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the last week, from buttery Czech beer to South African hops.

Max ‘Pivni Filosof’ Bahnson uses a report of a visit to a Prague bar to make some observations about trends and local tastes:

Most people describe diacetyl as buttery, to me, cheap margarine melting is a more accurate descriptor… and this beer smelled like plenty of it, and didn’t taste much better… If you follow the comments of the local beer intelligentsia, you might get the impression that diacetyl-laden beers have become a scourge, to the point that Jiří Kaňa wandered in Pivní.info whether 2016 wasn’t the year of diacetyl. And yet, that man sitting at the table in the opposite end of the room was clearly enjoying President 12°, and was probably in his fourth glass by then.


Goose Island on sale in Brussels.

The Beer Nut has been writing up a recent trip to Belgium from which we get this post observing the arrival of multiple taps of non-Belgian beer in Brussels:

Previously, the selection on offer was almost exclusively Belgian. I don’t recall foreign beer featuring at all until the Delirium Café opened its Hoppy Loft extension a few years ago, and it was always a novelty, very much outside the mainstream. Then I guess you had Moeder Lambic Fontainas, still resolutely local but with occasional guest beers from abroad. And then BrewDog arrived with an outlet pushing its own wares alongside the Belgians. It still didn’t feel like Brussels had any real interest in imported beer until my last visit a couple of weeks ago. The most shocking feature was the Goose IPA taps, popping up like mushrooms in the most unexpected places… Something has shifted and in this case AB InBev are doing the pushing.


Brussels Beer Project brewer Antoine Dubois, and founders Olivier de Brauwere and Sébastien Morvan.

Very much related is a piece from Will Hawkes for Beer Advocate about the growing influence of outside cultures, and especially the London brewing scene, on young Belgian brewers:

A visit to Malt Attacks, a bottle and homebrew shop on the elegant Avenue Jean Volders in the Brussels neighborhood of Saint-Gilles, makes his point clearly. Opened by Antoine Pierson in October 2014, it sells Belgian beer (but not Trappist ale) alongside offerings from around Europe, particularly Scandinavia and the UK. One day in early February, there were two draft beers available from the growler filler (the first, Pierson says, in Belgium): Wild Beer Madness IPA and Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball Black IPA, both of them brewed in England.

(Disclosure: we’re sometimes paid to write for BA.)


Video screengrab: Jim Caruso.

Here’s something thought-provoking: US centre-right news and opinion magazine/website Reason has a sympathetic account of the legal battle around Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch from a conservative free-speech perspective. It is built around an interview with the brewery’s boss, Jim Caruso, an avowed libertarian, available as video, or provided as raw (occasionally incorrect) transcript:

And for us, our marketing is built into this label. If you ban my ability to express my message, whether it’s a political message, citizens united, whether it’s a marketing message and idea, you’re effectively taking part of my identity away. This is unacceptable, so it went to [Alan Gura], a hero in Libertarian circles. Took our case, went to the ninth circuit, sixth circuit in Cincinnati. After several years the opinion was in our favor. And the minority opinion went so far as to say, ‘Yes, and they clearly violated your First Amendment right so go back and settle.’… We did… this was never about the money. We were awarded damages, obviously a lot went to legal fees. The rest went to form the First Amendment Society. This was never about the marketing, it was never about publicity.


The story about AB-InBev’s control of the supply of certain varieties of hops grown in South Africa blew up in the last couple of days after this Tweet:

It’s another front in the ongoing battle between those who believe Big Beer is attempting to crush, cripple or otherwise counteract smaller independent breweries, and those who are more pragmatic. Jamie Bogner’s account for Craft Beer & Brewing is illustrated with a photo of some hops IN A POOL OF BLOOD:

‘Given this situation and what they’ve just done, I wouldn’t be surprised if [buying out other exclusive hops varieties] isn’t one of their targets,’ says [hop broker Greg] Crum. ‘They have the money to buy out the guys who own the patents [on certain hops varieties]. And if they buy up enough craft breweries who need these hops, they may look to control the [hops] market again.’

Meanwhile, the perpetually level-headed Bryan Roth has broken this story down, concluding that it’s a storm in a pint pot:

If I’m translating numbers correctly, the International Hop Growers Convention estimated the entire South African hop crop at 1.9 million pounds in 2016. It is project to drop to 1.56 million pounds in 2017. There are 1,047 acres of hops expected to be harvested in South Africa this year, or a stone’s throw away than the acreage of only Cascade grown just in Oregon in 2016… Is it unfortunate that American brewers won’t be able to get aroma hops like Southern Passion from South Africa or alpha hops like Southern Star? Sure. But these are varieties to play with, not with which you build a portfolio of brands.

(But it’s worth noting, as a sign of how fraught things are as much as anything, that some have questioned Roth’s objectivity because he writes for Good Beer Hunting which has/had various connections with AB-InBev.)


Finally, this is a real highlight of the week which deserves the widest audience possible: footage of the complicated way Guinness porter used to be served recorded at the exact moment it went extinct in 1973. This really ought to inspire some experiments.